Las Vegas Sun

February 18, 2019

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Sandoval’s give-and-take: More money for schools, but collective bargaining needs to go

Rank-and-file teachers may applaud Gov. Brian Sandoval’s promise to pour more funds into education, but any celebration may be muted by another pledge: He said he wants to get rid of collective bargaining.

Sandoval provided no details in his State of the State address Thursday night, but even the hint that unions are in his sights is likely to ignite a partisan debate about teacher unions in the coming Legislature.

State law allows for collective bargaining in negotiations between employee groups and local governments, including school districts and municipalities. State employees are not authorized to organize.

Sandoval’s legislation would likely focus on eliminating collective bargaining in local governments, which he tried to do four years ago. For decades, conservatives have criticized collective bargaining — which is used in negotiating pay raises, benefits, working conditions and other issues — as increasing the cost of education.

In 2011, the Democratic-controlled Legislature didn’t advance Sandoval’s bills to kill collective bargaining. But with Republicans now in control of both chambers, Sandoval was applauded Thursday night for his proposals.

Sandoval’s education overhaul contains provisions that satisfy and aggravate members of each party. On the one hand, he’s calling for an increase in business license fees to raise $430 million over the next two years for education while, on the other hand, stripping unions of their bargaining role.

Sandoval’s speech Thursday comprised a mix of ambitious rhetoric and pledges of education overhauls. Among them: appointing versus electing school board members, spending $50 million to expand English-language learning programs, creating more charter schools and funding a UNLV medical school.

Union leaders applauded Sandoval’s promise to increase school funding but recoiled at the thought of losing collective bargaining.

There’s no evidence that reforming the negotiating process will improve student performance, said Ruben Murillo Jr., president of the Nevada State Education Association, which represents 23,000 Nevada schoolteachers and staffers.

He said his union will “aggressively engage” in conversations with lawmakers and the governor during the legislative session.

“I am sure the governor doesn’t want to balance the budget on the backs of teachers,” Murillo said.

Nevada is one of few union strongholds remaining in the country and has not seen the Republican-led overhauls that have struck states such as Wisconsin, where legislative and gubernatorial efforts led to what’s been considered the end of collective bargaining for public employee unions.

With Republicans in control of both legislative chambers, reform bills are likely to land where Sandoval wants them: on his desk. A legislative victory for collective bargaining may be a conquest for Republicans. But it also may be a pyrrhic victory.

Speaking to the Sun in December, AFL-CIO leader Danny Thompson said any attempts to hack at collective bargaining laws will guarantee an election backlash in 2016 from organized labor.

He said the AFL-CIO, which represents 200,000 Nevadans in 120 unions, will mount a vigorous defense.

“It will spill over into campaigns,” Thompson said.

CORRECTION: A sentence in this story has been rewritten to clarify that state law allows the use of collective bargaining but does not mandate it. An earlier version of the story said collective bargaining is not required by state law. | (January 18, 2015)

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